Fossils from Lost Worlds – written and illustrated by Damien Laverdunt and Hélène Rajcak

  Fossils from Lost Worlds – written and illustrated by Damien Laverdunt and Hélène Rajcak, translated by Daniel Hahn, Gecko Press, 9781776573158, 2021 (originally published in France, 2019)

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  This oversized, stylish book invites readers to pour over its intricate pen-and-ink/watercolor illustrations and its narrative passages interlaced with tongue-in-cheek talk bubbles. A short introductory note from the head of the palaeontology gallery at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris sets the stage — acknowledging our fascination with fossils and the wrong paths we have traveled with them. Then the book starts a chronological  investigation of the fossil record (and fossil hunters) from the beginnings of animal life through the reign of mammals. Short essays introduce the topics, but then graphic novel elements take over, often including humorous interjections from the animals.  An intrepid taktaalik (an early walking fish) faces down derision as he heads for land while ancient bird ancestors grunt and complain as they try to get off the ground for the first time. The authors even explore the role of pop culture in reinforcing fallacies: how did T. Rex become a movie star? Book design steals the show here. The thick, cream-colored pages make a great backdrop for the terrific artwork. The artists have re-created the animals with minute detail and a range of earth-toned colors; the human paleontologists play second-fiddle. An illustrated history of paleontology fills the last few pages and decorative endpapers in red and black feature silhouettes of all the creatures in the book.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. User warning for parents facing paleo-related exhaustion syndrome: lots of small type.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Dinosaur lovers from ages 6 and up who’ve already conquered standard nonfiction offerings and are ready for something more whimsical and fascinating. I loved the intersection of dinosaur facts with the study of paleontology as a science. The concentration on mistakes and whimsy and how they shape our understanding of the natural world was eye-opening. 

Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? It could go in 560, or in graphic novels, depending on where you think it will find more readers.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes — truly unique and beautiful.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: March 4, 2021

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